While most of us were still hung up on grunge, the republics of the former Yugoslavia spent the early 90s hung up on seceding into their own countries and mass-murdering people over infinitesimal ethnic differences. And the mid 90s. And the late 90s. To commemorate 12 years without a major attempted genocide, we decided to rent a Yugo and take a road trip through the Balkans to see what's going on and try to wrap our thinkers around what was up with all that ethnic cleansin'.
Our first stop: A nostalgic amusement park in northern Serbia that recreates Marshall Tito's Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia with startling accuracy and grimness.
Turbofolk is tacky, high-octane techno with melodies based loosely on traditional Balkan folk music. Which would make it the same as popular music in pretty much any country in Europe if it wasn't also paid for by the Serbian and Croatian mafias (sometimes the Montenegrin) and served as the soundtrack to some of the most heinous war crimes since the Holocaust. It's a bit of a trippy scene. The Madonna of Turbofolk, Ceca Ražnatovi?, is currently under house arrest for embezzlement and hiding a cache of assault rifles in her basement. So we caught up with her protege, Goga Sekulic, a heavily-bronzed tower of woman best known for her hits "Ga?ice [Panties]" and "Seksi Businessman [Sexy Businessman]" and went out for some Tuesday-night turboclubbing in Belgrade.
As documented in numerous morning-radio parodies of the Beach Boys' "Kokomo," the 1999 War in Kosovo was a grisly, nebulous affair in which the disputed region's Serbian and Albanian populations accused one another of rape, ethnic cleansing, and other sordid atrocities. Thanks to a blow job, the United States decided to get involved, and following an intensive bombing campaign by NATO fighter jets, the situation in Kosovo is now... still fucked. Both the Serbs and the Albanians claim the region belongs to them, neither side is budging, and people still regularly get their ass kicked for being from the wrong group in the wrong part of town. The most Seussian example of this protracted butter battle is a 20-yard bridge in the city of Mitrovica that links the Serbian and Albanian quarters and is guarded every night by a group of roughnecks on both sides to make sure no one crosses--despite the fact that there are no less than four other bridges across the same stretch of river that nobody gives a shit about.
Gypsies draw the short end of the stick wherever they live in Europe, and in Kosovo that stick is already kind of short and shitty to begin with. In the late 90s, while the Serbs and Albanians were bitching to the international community about how ethnically cleansed they were being from the region, BOTH sides were trying to drive the local Gypsy population out of town. Usually through such time-honored pressure tactics as burning down their houses and murdering the older members of their families. As the war flared and the anti-Gypsy atrocities escalated, the UN stepped in and took the only acceptable course of action: Build a refugee shelter for the Gypsies on an old dumping ground for industrial waste, then leave them there until all their children have lead poisoning.
In this stop on our trip we met with Paul Polansky, an American activist for gypsy rights who was brought to Kosovo by the UN to oversee their refugee camps, but who turned against them when he realized their negligence was basically doing the Serbs' and Albanians' job for them. Their genocide job, we mean.
Bosnia is the only Islamic country in Europe. So far... Before the war in the 90s, most Bosniaks practiced a very moderate, beardless form of Islam--they were basically Muslims the same way most English people are Christians or Jedis. These Friday Muslims still make up the majority in cities like Sarajevo and Tuzla, but three years of hellish onslaught by Serb and Croatian forces in the 90s managed to galvanize Muslim identity in the countryside and open the door for national Islamic revival which the charities and governments of the Arab world, specifically Saudi Arabia, were more than happy to throw money at. North of Sarajevo is a village, rumored to be funded by Saudi money, where the residents adhere to the Wahhabi branch of Islam: full beards on the guys, full niqab on the women. They're like the Amish of Bosnia. Except with more advanced weaponry.